Jon and I have been discussing Film Noir quite a bit lately. I know that I like noir films and stories, but I have a hard time defining it. So we are on a quest to watch some film noir, and to get a better definition of the genre.

We started with the one I always think of to start, The Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart to me epitomizes the hard-boiled detective. He’s snarky, callous, smart, skilled, and not afraid to give attitude to anybody.

The movie is filled with the ‘aura’ of noir. Everyone lives in a moral shade of gray, though the hero usually has his own code and sticks to it, it’s not always the most honorable. The time honored femme fatale takes advantage of the way women are viewed in a typically male dominated society and manipulates everyone around her. The world is very violent, everyone has a gun, or is a hired thug, or a corrupt official.

Sam Spade, Joal Cairo, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and Kaspar Gutman

The stuff that dreams are made of.

-Sam Spade, referring to the illusive Maltese Falcon

Another major component of noir, is that you don’t really feel that anyone has won by the end. The hero may escape by the skin of his teeth, but it’s not a great triumph of good over evil. The Maltese Falcon is a prime example of this, as not only is the bird that everyone has been after a fake, but rather than falling for the leading lady, Spade lets her take the punishment coming to her. Spade doesn’t have a lot of scruples, but he’s not about to let someone get away with killing his partner.

Modern noir has changed the genre some. I have enjoyed some of it, like Bladerunner 2049 or the detective parts of The Expanse. Others, not so much, like Drive. But I think it is a testament to the appeal and enduring nature of the trappings of noir that its still being mined for movies and television today.